One woman's quest to make communities dementia-friendly

By: Britni McDonald Email
By: Britni McDonald Email

POSTED February 11, 2014-- 5:30 p.m.

"I do worry," said Judy Quam.

Quam's friend of 50 years was diagnosed with dementia last summer.

"It's been very hard because I knew her in her good years so to speak," said Quam.

Now she visits her weekly at Heritage Homes Assisted Living in Watertown.

"She's only been here a few months, but I can see her progression going down," said Quam. "She has good days, and she has bad days."

Forgetting, confusion, problems with communication, not being able to do everyday tasks like handling money-- this is the case for Judy's friend and, according to the Alzheimer's Association, more than 100,000 others in Wisconsin.

"Any community you're in, somebody has dementia," said Jan Zimmerman, director of nursing at Heritage Homes.

With 46 residents and 19 in the memory care unit, she wanted to take her message outside of the home.

"We believe anyone with dementia, and those caretakers with them have a right to be safe and independent in the community," said Zimmerman.

If someone with dementia has an episode while they're out, often times people around them don't know what to do.

"When they get scared they react. Well anybody seeing this not understanding can become very frightening themselves," said Zimmerman. "Now they're calling the police so they're coming not knowing what to expect which snowballs the whole thing or they ignore the person and don't try to help maybe they'll just go away."

In October Zimmerman launched the Watertown Awareness Dementia Coalition, going door to door to businesses handing out information and offering training for these situations.

"If they have some training, they understand this person is confused. It's a different approach that you use," said Zimmerman.

She now has six businesses on board like State Bank of Reeseville.

"Where do people go everyday? The market, the post office, the bank. So having that extra awareness and knowledge is definitely helpful to them," said Justin Pratt of State Bank of Reeseville.

A purple angel symbolizes patience and understanding. It's in the windows of businesses who have training from Heritage Homes and can provide someone with dementia a safe and welcoming place to go.

"You're are here. This is good environment. Just sit and relax, and I will help. Those little approaches can really decrease agitations resulting in fear and completely change the system around," said Zimmerman.

"Dementia is not going away, and more and more people are being diagnosed, and we have to let them live a somewhat normal life," said Quam.

Fort Atkinson also found out what Zimmerman was doing and decided to hop on board with the coalition, which she hopes will go nationwide. But for now she'll continue going door to door spreading the message.

If you're a business that would like to learn more and put one of those purple angels in the window, you can head to dementia-aware.com or heritagehomes.org.


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